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California Bans ‘Redskins’ Team Names, Mascots

A Calaveras High School football player wearing a Native American headdress, an act seen by many indigenous people as offensive cultural appropriation. (Photo: Calaveras High School)

A Calaveras High School football player wearing a Native American headdress, an act seen by many indigenous people as offensive cultural appropriation. (Photo: Calaveras High School)

California became the first state to ban schools from using ‘Redskins’ as a team name or mascot as Gov. Jerry Brown signed the California Racial Mascots Act into law Sunday morning.

The Los Angeles Times reports the law, which covers all California public schools, will go into effect on January 1, 2017.

“The use of racially derogatory or discriminatory school or athletic team names, mascots, or nicknames in California public schools is antithetical to the California school mission of providing an equal education to all,” the bill, AB30, explains.

Introduced by Assemblyman Luis Alejo (D-Watsonville), the measure will give schools using ‘Redskins’-themed material such as uniforms time to phase out offending items. The San Francisco Chronicle reports four high schools will be affected by the new law: Gustine High School in Merced County, Calaveras High School in Calaveras County, Chowchilla Union High School in Madera County and Tulare Union High School in Tulare County.

Many indigenous groups and activists hailed the law’s passage, with some expressing hope that the move will help persuade the Washington Redskins or the National Football League (NFL) to change that franchise’s controversial name.

“This landmark legislation eliminating the R-word in California schools clearly demonstrates that this issue is not going away, and that opposition to the Washington team on this issue is only intensifying,” Oneida Indian Nation Representative Ray Halbritter and National Congress of American Indians Executive Director Jackie Pata, leaders of the advocacy group Change the Mascot, wrote in astatement. “The NFL should act immediately to press the team to change the name.”

“I am ecstatic over Governor Brown’s decision to sign Assembly Bill 30 into law, creating an opportunity for Native youth to obtain an education free from mockery,” 15-year-old Dahkota Franklin Kicking Bear Brown, a student at Argonaut High School in Jackson who had to endure chants of “Kill the Redskins” at games against Calaveras, said in a statement.

But at Calaveras High, many students and staff oppose the new law.

“I’m part of a tribe, my dad is Indian—er, Native American—and his tribe is completely fine with it,” student Joseph Celly told KCRA. “We see it as more of an honor than a disgrace or a mockery.”

“I use the name as a source of pride and dignity,” head varsity football coach Jason Weatherby added. “I’m a Calaveras Redskin until I die, so whether the name is changed or not, it’s really not going to be changed in the hearts of the people here.”

Earlier this year, the Obama administration told executives of the Washington NFL franchise that they would have to change their name before the team would be allowed to move to a new stadium in Washington, DC.

“Personally, I think we would never consider naming a team the ‘Blackskins’ or the ‘Brownskins’ or the ‘Whiteskins,'” Interior Secretary Sally Jewell told ABC News last September. “So, personally, I find it surprising that in this day and age, the name is not different.”

Last year, the US Patent and Trademark Office canceled the Redskins’ trademarks, calling the team name and mascot “disparaging to Native Americans.”

Team owner Daniel Snyder has staunchly defended his continued use of the offensive name and mascot, pointing out that in their first year, the Redskins had four Native American players and even a Native American head coach. In an October 2013 letter to fans, Snyder wrote that “the name was never a label. It was, and continues to be, a badge of honor.” Snyder also wrote that while he respects “the opinions of those who are offended by the team name. . . we cannot ignore our 81-year history.”

That history includes the fact that the Redskins name came from the mind of George Preston Marshall, the franchise’s former racist owner who was the last in the NFL to allow blacks to play for him—fully 15 years after the league began integrating.

AB30 was signed into law a day before at least nine US cities and towns celebrated Indigenous Peoples’ Day, an affirmation of Native American pride and rights and a rejection of the federal Columbus Day holiday, which opponents say glorifies genocide, slavery, racism, colonialism and oppression.

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